This is an extended, revised version of the letter I wrote to go with our Christmas cards this year. I’ve received the occasional text asking, “How are things going?” This is how it’s going.
Of course I started the letter with a reference to “That ‘70s Show.” I’m not clever enough to think of something better. Plus, Cheap Trick performed the opening credits theme song, a cover of “In the Street” by Big Star, for all but the first season of the show. So, Cheap Trick.
It’s early January as I write this. A little over four months ago, we packed up everything we had collected over our 19 years in Ohio (!!!) and hightailed it to Madison (technically Verona, but also Madison, and Middleton schools, it’s weird). We lived in Ohio almost twice as long as I lived in Chicago, but it feels like it was the other way around.
My lovely wife is from Madison. Her mom is still here. Two of our nieces currently go to school here. My sister-in-law is a Senior Lecturer with the UW-Madison School of Business, so she’s here a lot. That is why we’re here. But it’s not the only reason why we’re here.
We were all ready for a fresh start.
The truth is that Deb and I had been plotting a move to Madison for several years. Deb has wanted to be closer to her mom for a while because you never know how much time you have left with a loved one. This means, of course, that I’ve moved away from my mom, which is hard, but my sister Ann, feeling a similar urge as Deb, recently moved back to Columbus to be closer to our mom, so Mom still has one of her babies nearby.
The original plan was to make the move once both kids were in college, but then we realized that when they came home for the summer, they wouldn’t have any close friends in town, so we moved up our timeline. Both kids already have friends in the area through Phantom Lake, a summer camp outside of Milwaukee (they have been going to this camp, the same one Deb went to as a kid, nearly every year since they were seven years old), and in fact, Garrett has a full-fledged squad in the nearby town of Oregon because of that camp. Wisconsin has open enrollment, so we had the ability to send the kids to different high schools: Garrett is with his friends at Oregon High School, and Amy goes to Middleton High School.
We knew we were asking a lot of them with this move. Change is hard at any age, particularly when you’re a teenager. But the kids embraced the idea of a reboot, and so far, both are thriving in their new environments.
We met with three of Garrett’s teachers early in the school year. Every one of them, unprompted, said, “Garrett has a really good group of friends.” We knew this already, but there’s an extra level of validation when the teachers think your child’s friends are good kids.
He joined the swim team, which is a big lift for a junior, but he is really enjoying it and getting better each week. His friends on the team aren’t superstar swimmers, so there’s no pressure to be awesome. This is just something else that they do together, and if they do well, cool! If they don’t, that’s cool, too.
I’m burying the lede, though.
He had a girlfriend within three weeks of moving here, and she’s adorable. They build Lego sets and gingerbread houses, go thrifting, bake cookies, and make slime together. They’re impossibly cute.
He had four of his friends over for New Year’s Eve. They hung out until almost 4:00 the next day. We thought they would leave after the Wisconsin/LSU game was over (those last three plays were brutal), but nope, they were having too much fun chilling together. And at that point, Amy was home from her sleepover, so she jumped into the hang with the boys, since they all know each other from camp.
There was talk about a school project, the year in review. Garrett said he would start his in September, because that’s when things got interesting for him.
September. When we moved up here.
So yeah, Garrett’s doing all right.The Girl
Amy is going to a school twice the size of her previous one, but she has made a bunch of new friends (it’s her superpower), and to go with her 10-year soccer career, she took up basketball last year and made the JV2 team at her new school.
And she’s done rather well, given how little she’s played the sport. She has a double-double and has been bumped up to play for the JV team a couple of times. After she sank her first three-pointer in a game, we heard a junior on the girls’ varsity team immediately tell someone who just walked up, “Amy made a three-pointer!” I turned around and smiled, and she said, “I love her. She’s my daughter.”
Seeing upperclassmen take possession of your freshman child, I mean, that’s the dream, right there.
There is drama with the girls here as well, sure, but it’s mild, nothing compared to what she dealt with in Ohio. To illustrate the point, let me tell you a story that will boggle my mind for as long as I live, and possibly yours, too.
The back story is that Amy is still dating a boy in Ohio. I know, a long-distance relationship in high school? Madness.
Agreed, but they both seem to be fully committed to the relationship, and if we interfere, she will only want it more, right? So, we have to be Switzerland-level neutral. And to be fair, he’s a great kid.
Okay, begin scene.
Shortly after moving here, Amy saw an Instagram account called Middleton High School Sports or something to that effect, so she followed it.
The feed was nothing but photos of her boyfriend at a Dublin Scioto football game with one of her better Ohio friends.
Someone at Amy’s former school created a fake account to look like it was from her new school, in an attempt to trick her into thinking that her boyfriend was cheating on her.
Let’s all take a couple of minutes to process how much batshit fuckery there is in that last sentence.
Amy was able to identify the culprit pretty quickly, and amazingly, this wasn’t a big deal to her. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, etc. Meanwhile, Deb and I are like, that is not normal, but there has been a concerted effort by a sizable group of people (mostly girls) to break these two up from the moment they got together, and Amy just rolls with it at this point.
She was – and still is, months after leaving – bombarded with toxic behavior from her former classmates. Over time, she normalized it and accepted it as part of the teen experience.
But we didn’t.
She admits that she could have made better choices, and that some people have a right to be unhappy with her, but the punishment she’s receiving doesn’t remotely fit the crime. She has suffered far more grief than she deserves, in my (admittedly biased) opinion.
I dropped Amy off at school the other day, and she saw that her closest friend here was about to walk into the school. She jumped out of the car, called out the girl’s name, and the girl had the biggest smile when she saw Amy. They gave each other a huge hug and walked inside together.
We knew that she could have it better. And now she does.My Lovely Wife
Those of you who are friends with her on Facebook already got a taste of how the move has gone for her so far. She’s deliriously happy to be home again, rekindling old friendships, frequently checking in on her mom (who wept tears of joy when we told her about the move), and she’s added a new title to her resume: professor! She begins teaching a class on Strategic Media Planning at UW-Madison in the new semester.
As an added bonus, she’s already lined up two good friends of ours from the Chicago days to be guest lecturers. It’s nice being closer to Chicago, with opportunities to see our friends more often than we have. I’ve missed them, and I’ve missed the city.
I also love being back on Central time. Central time rules.
As well as everything has gone so far, the fact that we moved here still seems alien at times. There are days where I feel like I jumped timelines in the multiverse, and I’m living the life of another version of me. But it’s a good life. The people here are unlike the people in any other city I’ve ever lived in (and I’ve lived in several). I still haven’t had a rude encounter with someone. And it’s not that passive-aggressive, Minnesota Nice kind of thing. The people here are genuinely kind and considerate. I totally get why Deb wanted to move back here.
I’ve told you all about Deb and the kids, and I assure you it’s not because I’m saving the best for last.Me
The adjustment is going to be hardest for me, hands down. I have one friend here that’s not also one of Deb’s friends. It might be months, maybe even a year, before I get settled in the way that Deb and the kids are now. They gave me a pickleball racket for Christmas, so I am looking into leagues for geezers like me.
Until then, my main hobby has been serving as Amy’s chauffeur. Her new soccer team, the Madison 56ers, has a much more grueling travel schedule. We drove to Ann Arbor, which is seven hours away (then add an hour for switching time zones), for two matches. On another weekend (in mid-November, which seems awfully late in the year to play soccer this far north, but what do I know), we drove to Grand Rapids, the girls played a match, then we drove to Libertyville, Illinois for a match the next morning. Oof.
We hosted Thanksgiving for Deb’s entire family (mom, sisters, kids, a spouse). We’ve played a lot of trivia, which is how I finally caught Covid for the first time, sigh.
I think things will change for me in the spring. I’ll be out more, exploring the bike trails and seeing what sports leagues I can sign up for, time permitting. Until then, as I look at how much better things already are for Deb and the kids, I know that moving here was the right call.
Come visit. We have a spare bedroom now.